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Maoist Internationalist Movement

MIM sends follow-up letter to Harvard University Press and Mark Kramer

March 25, 2001

Dear Harvard University Press and Mark Kramer, ed., "Black Book of Communism":

Below I would like to update you in two areas: 1) the listing of more factual errors in the Margolin chapter 2) our petition circulating concerning the book.

Before we address those errors further, we would also like to express our concern that even in the French edition, it appears that Werth and Margolin did not get a fair chance to correct errors by the preface writer Courtois. Now, we have come to you with errors that Margolin should be allowed to correct and we have not heard back from you. Are you taking the position that Margolin is not entitled to correct the errors in his chapter? Have you bought the rights to this book under the condition that you do not allow the authors to make changes? Does Harvard University Press have a policy on error correction? It seems that if Harvard University Press does not allow error corrections or errata, then consumers should be allowed to know that before considering purchase of HUP books.

Let me refer you to the following as one reviewer put it:

"Just weeks after The Black Book of Communism was published, in late October 1997, the volume's two most distinguished contributors--Nicolas Werth, a historian of the Soviet Union, and Jean-Louis Margolin, a China expert--angrily repudiated the editor Stéphane Courtois in a series of interviews and articles published in Le Monde. The scholars were infuriated by Courtois's introductory screed indicting international communism for "crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity" and characterizing fellow travelers as "common prostitutes." Worst of all, they complained, Courtois had not permitted them to see the introduction prior to publication. On October 31, Werth and Margolin were quoted in Le Monde excoriating Courtois for effacing "the historical character" of communism and for vastly inflating the number of deaths that occurred under it." (Source: )Are you and previous publishers afraid of loss of sales if you allow Werth and Margolin their say?

Returning to our listing of factual errors in the book, we will pick up where we left off. Please forgive us for only gradually releasing all the errors found in the "Black Book of Communism" but an academic institute would be necessary to go into all the errors concerned more promptly. That is another reason we believe you should set about precisely to find some scholars to review the errors in this book.

To continue on our point 6 "non-violent land reform" from previous letters, on February 28th, Chinese in the Taiwan province commemorated the Erh Erh Pa massacre of between 10,000 to 50,000 by the Guomindang regime, which happened before the Guomindang implemented land reform in Taiwan. The massacre was in response to uprising by the people, and hence the Guomindang had to face the prospect of being overthrown in Taiwan just as it had been on the Mainland. References to this massacre occur all over the Internet and in serious books on Taiwanese land reform--in addition to the violence that Mao had to organize and face to achieve land reform against Chiang Kai-shek on the Mainland.

In southern Korea, we have two more references for you on the land reform there and how it came about, contrary to your assertion that it was non-violent. According to Jang Jip Choi, and as we earlier stated, "The radical land reform in North Korea began in 1946, and the redistribution of land that took place under the auspices of the North Korean military when they swept southward at the start of the Korean War greatly influenced the politics of land reform in South Korea."(1) Readers should recall that communists controlled all of Korea except for a tiny patch on the southern tip when the United States intervened in the Korean War and drove the communists back to the borders known today.

Also, although the United States declared a military decree of land reform in 1948 for southern Korea, it only affected formerly Japanese land. "The American reforms had not touched Korean holdings. . . . actual transfers of property did not occur until the war itself."(2) Once again, Margolin's claim that Korean land reform was non-violent could not be more false.

As for Japan, we have found more sources on this point as well. John Dower recently won a Pulitzer Prize and several others for "Embracing Defeat" which says the Japanese land reform after 920 executions of war criminals was "virtual confiscation," contrary to what Margolin wrote that "people were compensated more or less satisfactorily for their losses."(p. 480) Lucky was Japan to have an imitation communist revolution in land and yet be allowed to export to the world's largest market.

Point 7, p. 464, Mao's multiple admissions of error and attempts to change course in the Great Leap

Margolin says that Mao bore blame for the Great Leap and did not admit it, referring to "his criminal obstinacy in refusing to admit his mistake and to allow measures to be taken to rectify the disastrous effects."(p. 464) This is factually untrue and has been covered by Great Leap critic and bourgeois political historian MacFarquhar. Mao admitted responsibility for error not just once or twice, but numerous times during and after the Great Leap and was very involved in trying to change the course of the hundreds of millions of people throughout it. To prove his point, Margolin should have provided some quotes from Mao about not changing course in the Great Leap no matter what, and then explain away the other quotes, but instead he feels he has the freedom to make up a straw man Mao to shoot down.

In fact, Margolin contradicts himself in the chapter. While Mao is supposed to be "obstinate" and able to block necessary changes of course concerning the Great Leap, Margolin also says, "There was never a definitive interpretation of what Mao said . . . Confusion also reigned concerning the real intentions of the Center, as people found it hard to believe that Mao himself could be so indecisive."(p. 532) Which is it, "obstinacy" or "indecisive"? No freedom of opinion or "no definitive interpretation of what Mao said"?

In 1984, the Associated Press said, " Chairman Mao said he took direct responsibility for the failure of this plan to catapult China into pure communism by abolishing private farming and merging 750,000 collectives into 26,000 egalitarian communes."(3)

If Mao had not changed course, there is no way Chen Yun would have taken charge of the economy; urban population would not have been sent back to the countryside to tend to the harvest in 1959 and private farming would not have been restored in the midst of 1960. Ironically, the most deaths occurred after Mao changed course by dismantling the communes "to rectify the disastrous effects."

In February of 1959, at Chengchow conferences, Mao was the one to tell people to change course in the Great Leap: "'I say--firmly implement right opportunism, thoroughly and to the end. If you don't follow me then I'll do it on my own--even to the lengths of abandoning my party membership, and even to the extent of bringing a suit against Marx.'"(4)

In a speech at Lushan on July 23rd, 1959, Mao said, "Could the people's communes collapse? Up to now not one has collapsed. We were prepared for the collapse of half of them, and if seventy per cent collapsed there would still be thirty per cent left. If they must collapse, let them. If they are not well run they are sure to collapse." What more could he have said in terms of flexibility? In the same speech again, he took responsibility: "In 1958 and 1959 the main responsibility was mine, and you should take me to task." He said the same thing again at the end of the speech. These quotations can be found in Stuart Schram's book "Chairman Mao Talks to the People," which has the benefit that Mao trusted Schram to a large degree which is more than can be said for some of Margolin's use of "sources" for Mao speeches on subjects other than the Great Leap.

Having covered what Mao said with regard to his own blame very carefully during the Great Leap, MacFarquhar concluded on the last page of his volume 2 of the "Origins of the Cultural Revolution": "In the end, Mao conceded gracefully."(5)

In subsequent work, MacFarquhar quotes from Mao's 1962 speech taking responsibility for the errors of the Great Leap.(6) Margolin missed it completely.

Margolin's error is evident in that unlike MacFarquhar he did not quote Mao from his speeches admitting error or his actions to rectify them. Harvard University Press allowed a sweeping generalizations of fact about Mao to be printed without basic fact-checking or commonsense with regard to how the Great Leap ended. It appears that once again fear of reading communist writings has led to ignorance.

1. Jang Jip Choi, "Political Cleavages in South Korea," State and Society in
Contemporary Korea, Hagen Koo, ed. (Ithacad, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), p. 20.

2. Stephan Haggard & Chung-in Moon, "The State, Politics, and
Economic Development in Postwar South Korea," State and Society in
Contemporary Korea, Hagen Koo, ed. (Ithacad, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), p. 60.
Bruce Cummings says the same thing of the communist
advance that implemented the land reform the Americans were not
able to force on the southern Korean ruling class before. See
Korea's Place in the Sun (NY: W.W. Norton, 1997)p. 270.

3. "Great leap was a tragic blunder," 14Sept1984, 19990929102014578.asp

4. Roderick MacFarquhar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution:
The Great Leap Forward 1958-1960 (NY: Columbia University Press,
1983), p. 153.

5. Roderick MacFarquhar, The Origins of the Cultural
Revolution: The Coming of the Cataclysm 1961-1966 (Oxford,
England: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 169.

Point 8: Great Leap weather station historical revisionism

Referring to Jasper Becker's work "Hungry Ghosts," as "the only book we know of that gives a good overall picture of the famine that followed the Great Leap Forward," Margolin throws in a sentence about the Maoists' claims that weather and sudden withdrawal of Soviet aid was mainly responsible for the problems of the Great Leap. "In 1960, only 8 of the 120 Chinese weather stations noted a drought of any consequence, and only a third mentioned drought as a problem at all."(p. 491)

If readers do not know enough about the Great Leap to know that Margolin chose to deal with one of the main arguments against his whole chapter and Courtois's 100 million figure with one sentence, then that is shame on the reader. It is not Margolin's "error," just his willingness to distort and mislead. Indeed, Margolin is generous in pointing out that the major famine was after the Leap, which should leave readers wondering what caused it then.

We find it a terrible shame that under capitalism writers use politics this way to cover up scientific argument over historical events that Margolin says may have caused 43 million deaths. Readers who buy books from commercial presses such as Owl and even HUP have to beware, because the authors have an interest in sensationalism to make a profit. We understand, HUP's publication of the "Black Book of Communism" does not occur under the auspices of the Harvard faculty and in fact HUP is a creation of the Harvard Corporation.

However, on closer investigation, we learn that Margolin did more than mislead. Jasper Becker is someone who makes it clear he is modeling his work on that of Robert Conquest on the Ukrainian famine. (See pages 45 and 46 of his Owl Edition of "Hungry Ghosts.") In contrast, even Werth had the sense to know that British Foreign Office employee and eventually exposed disinformation agent Robert Conquest exaggerated his story of the Soviet Union.

Becker's favorite anti-communist bedtime stories about the Ukrainian famine stem from Axis World War II propaganda. New York's newspaper the "Village Voice" of January 12, 1988 has already debunked the claims about the Ukrainian famine, as being wildly exaggerated and as having been created by fascist Ukrainians, in some cases caught in the act of fraud in propaganda creation. Ludo Martens in his book "Another View of Stalin" has also debunked poet, fiction-writer and government official Robert Conquest for his use of Nazi sources, Nazi collaborator sources and fiction books to buttress his most widely cited story of the Ukrainian famine. 80,000 Ukrainians served in the Nazi army including some in the SS and that is the kind of human material that gets wide quotation.(HUP, "Black Book of Communism," p. 244)

Yet despite Becker's applauding of tall tales of famine under Stalin, Becker did it all in the open. Margolin goes a step further than Becker's glorifying Nazis, Nazi collaborators and fiction books as historical sources: Margolin omits where his sources come from. While Becker in his own confused way tried to claim that Mao was never criticized and his society had no openness, and while others have tried to say that even the Deng Xiaoping regime defended the Great Leap, Becker at least said his information on the weather station was an historical revision of previous data decades after the fact and under orders from the party of Deng Xiaoping, who Mao purged as a capitalist-roader before Mao's death. Becker said writers were "urged to delete the earlier view that that the Leap brought economic benefits." Yet Margolin simplified and published the revisions as historical fact without mention of their source. If he wants to say, "more than a generation later, people say that in 1960 only 8 of the 120 Chinese weather stations noted a drought of any consequence, and only a third mentioned drought as a problem at all" that would be fine. Becker was not there. Margolin was not there. Westerners who actually were there during the Great Leap such as W.E.B. Du Bois do not offer anything like the account they give. It is not possible for Becker and Margolin to say "In 1960 the weather stations etc.," because they do not know. To combat historical revisionism so common in the issues surrounding anti-Semitism and anti-communism, the discussion of 1960 should refer to the readings as recorded at that date and not what someone said about that date decades later.

Point 9: p. 519, Lin Biao did not have a "deathbed"

Page 519 of the book seems at first to be suggesting by way of passing a new conspiracy theory concerning the death of Lin Biao. However, it appears that it may just be a translation error. The number two man in China under Mao, Lin Biao died in a plane crash at a place that Chinese did visit, much after the fact. Lin Biao did not have a deathbed to visit.

Here is our latest petition circulating: "To Harvard University Press:

We the undersigned are concerned about the lack of factual accuracy in the 'Black Book of Communism' and demand that Harvard University Press appoint a committee of scholars to spend at least six months reviewing it and making recommendations for editorial change before it goes into print again. Specifically, we have already noted errors in the book misplacing decimal points that exaggerate the deaths by a factor of 10. Other factual errors include the reporting of land reform in capitalist countries and the imprisonment rate in the United States.

We would like to stress that our demand does not concern the ethical or religious priorities of the authors. Although the 'Black Book' authors would like to count the war against fascism as a 'crime' of communism, that does not concern us here: we are only concerned about the facts that the authors and editors claim to present, not how they are ideologically interpreted."

As I have said before, we consider the Margolin chapter a botch. You should either withdraw it completely from the book or spend months correcting its factual errors before reprinting.

[email protected] for the Maoist Internationalist Movement

See Mark Kramer's admission regarding errors in the Black Book of Communism and MIM's further response

See MIM's petition regarding errors in the Black Book of Communism

See MIM's review of the Black Book of Communism from February 2000

See all the links in this matter in chronological order

See the initial correspondence between MIM and Harvard University Press

See an earlier petition to Harvard University Press

Read another example of the epidemic of misplaced decimal points on the Great Leap: Harvard Government Chair Roderick MacFarquhar

Contact MIM about this by writing [email protected]

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